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Admitted Jalalabad bank attacker regrets killings
Taliban misled him, teenage militant says
By Mirwais Omarkhil
Last in a series
JALALABAD, Afghanistan – The lone surviving suspect in one of Jalalabad's worst terrorist crimes is talking – and repenting.
On February 19, a group of seven armed men entered the Jalalabad branch of the Kabul Bank, killing at least 40 people and injuring 70 others. Among the dead were at least 21 police officers who were collecting their pay.
Police arrested lone surviving suspect Zara Jan Khan, a Pakistani teenager from North Waziristan, as he allegedly tried to escape. Khan is now charged with the killings, and President Hamid Karzai has publicly called for his execution.
In an exclusive interview in prison, Khan told Central Asia Online how he came to be in the bank that day in February. The Taliban misled him, and he now regrets the killings, he said.
Like many youth recruited by the Taliban, Khan had little education.
“I went to school in childhood, but then quit,” he said. “We were poor. My father has a grocery shop, and my brothers work with him. I was working in the mountains and helping my father in the shop.”
He does not know his own age. Prison officials estimate he is between 16 and 18 years old.
His cousin’s friend, Abdul Rahman from Paktia Province, Afghanistan, was a member of the Taliban and recruited him, Khan recalled.
“He would often come to our house,” Khan said. “I was introduced to him in Barmal District of Waziristan. Abdul Rahman once told me we should carry out jihad against infidels in Afghanistan. I agreed.”
Training in Miranshah
Rahman arranged for Khan and two other young men, Saifullah and Sharifullah, to go to a Taliban training camp in Miranshah several months before the attack.
“In Miranshah, we were living in a compound in a valley. … One day planes bombed the area where we were living, but we survived,” he said. “After the air strikes, we went back to Miranshah, this time to another compound known as Khalifa Centre. There were 25 other boys training at the same centre.”
Khan said an Uzbek militant instructed the trainees on firing weapons and carrying out suicide bombings daily. “His name was Farooq,” Khan said. “He would instruct us on almost everything. He not only trained me but also everyone in the camp. Most of the boys were younger than me, but some were older.”
One day a man named Nazar Gul met Khan, gave him some money, and said he and his friend Shahidullah were being sent to Afghanistan to carry out suicide attacks.
They were taken to Peshawar, where someone named Qari Nazir took them to a madrassa for a 20-day stay.
Afterward, Nazir took the pair to Jalalabad.
Plotting the attack
One afternoon, “a man named Mahmood … showed us the (Kabul Bank branch). He told me, ‘Do you see all these people who enter the bank? All of them are infidels.’”
Khan expressed some doubts.
“I told him: ‘But they are all wearing regular clothes.’ He said they were actually infidels but were wearing regular clothes. Since I was in Afghanistan for the first time, I could not differentiate between infidels and common people. Then I told him, ‘Those wearing burqas are women.’”
The man was unequivocal, Khan recalls.
“Kill them, for they are all infidels,” Khan recalled the man telling him.
After a few days Khan went to Peshawar and spent two weeks in Qari Nazir’s house before returning to Jalalabad, where he spent five days in Mahmood’s house.
“The next day, Mahmood drove us to Jalalabad and bought us some clothes and other things. One day Mahmood came with uniforms. When I went into the other room to put on the uniform, I saw another person who was placing bombs in a motorbike.”
Khan learned the bombs and gunpowder were for the attack and that they would wear the uniforms to prevent suspicion.
“In the morning, after we ate breakfast, Mahmood came and took the motorbike,” he recalled. “A green car came and took us (to the city). The AK-47s were also in the car. On the way, another person gave us bullets.”
Authorities halted their car at a checkpoint, but since they were wearing police uniforms, nobody searched them. Their handler dropped them off near the bank and told them to attack.
“My friend Shahidullah carried out the first attack, and I followed him,” Khan recalled. “I went inside the bank. The bank guard was killed by my friend’s shots. I was told to kill everybody who was wearing green as well as regular clothes. I, too, shot at people and killed them one by one. My friend was injured, and I was also wounded in the face. I do not know whether Shahidullah is alive.”
Khan called the man who had brought them to the bank, who told him to change into his own clothes and escape with the bank customers.
“I did so, but when I came out, the police arrested me,” he said.
He was misled
Asked if he now thinks he was killing infidels or innocent Muslims and human beings, Khan admitted he had been misled.
“I was wrong. I killed all innocent Muslims. I now regret what I did,” he said.
“I was deceived,” he continued. “I was told I would go to Paradise, but by killing innocent people, no one can enter Paradise. Those who coerce others to kill Muslims are infidels themselves.”
Khan has a message for other young men who are considering joining the militants – or are already training as suicide bombers.
“I want to tell all youth and people to avoid evil acts; they should be really careful so they do not kill innocent Muslims as I did. They should not be deceived by those who want to send us here (Afghanistan) under the name of jihad. They make us kill Muslims,” he said.
“I ask all Afghans to forgive me,” Khan concluded. “I have committed a sin and (ask) them to forgive me.”